With so many older flicks hitting Blu-ray this week (although "The Piano" was sadly sans special features – damn you!) it felt like time to shed a little light on a hidden gem that hasn’t even made it’s way to DVD yet – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! If there were any justice in the home video world, this week’s selection would see a fully restored special edition with a cast group commentary that would blow every cinefile mind. (And I’m not talking a Tony Kaye cut of "American History X" with Edward Norton and Kaye tag-team commentary!) It’s a film about kidnapping and cults (not necessarily in that order!) that has somehow managed to fly under the radar, but for those who have seen it it’s a sight to behold. I’m talking about the star-studded 1982 snatch and grab classic..."Split Image."
Danny Stetson is an average kid. He’s a good college student, a destined for Olympic gold gymnast and he comes from a very loving family. One day he meets the beautiful and fetching Rebecca and finds himself following her inside a religious commune known as Homeland. Headed by charismatic leader Neil Kirklaner, Danny begins to succumb to his powerful teachings and eventually becomes fully enraptured by the overpowering cults prowess. Danny’s parents eventually catch wind of his disappearance and try reaching out to no avail. So in a final desperate act they decide to hire bounty hunter and de-programmer Charles Pratt to kidnap their son back and bring him back to reality.
While this one may sound like one of those cheesy ABC Movie of the Week deals, there is a special something that puts this one into the masterpiece arena. All under the ample direction of Ted "First Blood" Kotcheff (pre-"Weekend at Bernie’s" folks!), "Split Image" is one of those rare cases where actors elevate the material. In fact, the cast assembled here are so far beyond the range of the story that they all make the film a must see. Danny is played by a young Michael O’Keefe (post "Caddyshack," pre-"Nate and Hayes!"), the seductive Rebecca is Marion Ravenwood herself Karen Allen and in a perfect casting category cult leader Neil is played with natural Zen by...Peter Fonda! (Casting Director Lynn Stalmaster deserves an Oscar for this one!) Not enough? How about the always sturdy Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Ashley as Danny’s worried parents – a notable coupling if ever there was one.
But for those who are unbelievably still not satisfied there’s one more cinematic stoke of casting genius that the film has up its ample sleeve. The bitter, angry and brutal de-programming expert Pratt is played with relish by the lively...James Woods.
In one inspired, candid and downright nasty piece of acting, the eager and hungry Woods still early in his career turns in one of the most memorable sleazy on-screen good/bad guys ever. The only thing more caustic then his candid pitch to potential clients is his reconstruction methods for kidnapped cult victims once they get into his world – it’s a harrowing sight to see. (Probably the only chance you’ll get to witness Woods violently spit on a picture of Fonda...and love it!)
I’m so surprised that with all the above name talent on this one that nobody at MGM (which took over for the now gone Orion Pictures) saw fit to release this one in some kind of digital home format. With almost a master class of thespians involved, I can only imagine how cool an audio track or feature doc would be with the insight from all of the above. I say stop releasing the mundane crap on Blu-ray forgotten for a reason and let’s revive those titles that deserve attention. Someone please snatch the original negative out of the MGM vault and make this one available for everyone to enjoy – a ruthless and wild Woods is a terrible thing to waste.